Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pictures of the New House

I move into my new house on Sunday! I can't wait! here are some pictures. There's an extra guest room so you're always welcome to come visit.

Forget moving trucks! All you need is some string and a trike

Our kitchen and crazy blue fridge

Bedroom and bed

Our sala or living room

The deck area.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm a Prince!

I have 150 exams to partially grade this week. My co-teacher will be handling the multiple choice parts while i get the essays and application questions. This division of the labor not only underscores our daily routine, but also our basic differences in proper assessment techniques. I admit that grading 150 essays is not fun, however, only multiple choice questions in a writing class is just not gonna cut it for me and my performance based background.

I gave my students two topics to write about that exemplified various forms of discourse:
1. Argue you opinion of legalization of gay marriage.
2. Describe the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

I've gotten some very touching, and well thought out responses to both prompts. Also, their ability to write has gotten much better from their work in the first week (Oh my gosh I might actually be reaching them!!).

Below are the words one student so lovingly wrote about the most beautiful thing she's ever seen. I haven't changed the words at all.

The most beautiful person I’ve ever seen is my sir Justin. He’s my professor in the English subject. He’s tall, white complexion and a handsome too. He’s an American citizen. He always wears his black eye glasses and a smile in his face. I admire him so much because of his eyes, which is so blue, his nose which is tall, and of course he’s pinky and kissable lips. Sir Justin is a Peace Corps volunteer. He looks like a prince when he enters our room because of his glamorous appearance.

Now isn't that just the creepies...I mean sweetest thing. I guess through my glasses my brown eyes start to look blue, or something like that... This little gem though made 4 hours of essay reading pretty much worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Housing and Menial Tasks

In 17 days (not that's i'm anxious....) I move out of my host family and into a house that I'll be happily sharing with Marlo. As that number gets lower I'm constantly thinking about all the accouterments that will make our little house a home. What a better way to introduce you to the slightly nutty world that is that Filipino home, than by talking through mine, right?

We'll start with the garden. For the sake of this conversation I'm going to mean that a typical house is something less than a mansion but more than a nipa (like bamboo) hut. This typical house usually has some sort of garden area. Garden may be giving too much credit to certain homeowners however. Here you can put anything in the ground and its pretty much assured to grow. It rare to see those old ladies in their straw hats, elbow deep in dirt, weeding the tulips. Gardening here takes more of the form of making sure the coconut tree is far enough from the house so it won't put a dent in the roof when they fall off the tree. Anyhows, our house has a beautiful garden and we don't have to do anything to it, which makes it that much better.

The sala is the first room you enter in our house. The sala is something like a living room. For most families its where the TV and couch are. It also serves as the reception area for guests and thus an area of business too. THis is also where you'll see the most family memorabilia. Cameras and picture development are both a little costly so any and all pictures the family have acquired are probably displayed.

Next on our tour are the bedrooms. This is where things can really start to vary from house to house. Filipinos, being a very people-oriented group, don't really like to sleep alone. I shared a bedroom with my brother until I was about 10, and after that got my own room. Sharing a room--and probably a bed-- with siblings will probably continue as long as they're not opposite genders and not married. Marlo's sisters are both 20ish and still share a bed and don't really mind. Usually in a house there will also be only one big cabinet type thing and so all the clothing will be stored in that one place, probably the parents' bedroom. Bedrooms may also be used to store the dishes, medicines, or really anything that doesn't have its own space.

The bathroom (known here as the CR--Comfort Room) can also be a space that can be different from house to house. There are two prevailing ideas for the CR. You either cherish your time there and so you have a fancy CR with tiles and flushing toilet, or you reduce it to its function and go with something a step above a hole in the ground. Either way there's bound to be some buckets involved. I haven't brought up the topics of buckets yet, but if someone wanted to make some quick money, it would be selling buckets in Philippines. In the bathroom you usually find (at the very least) the following buckets:

Shower bucket- this is a big big bucket that stores the water that everyone bathes with.

Flush bucket- this is a medium sized bucket that gets filled from the shower bucket in order to dump enough water in the toilet to make your "business" "go away"--i won't use flush on purpose.

Dipper- the dipper is your best friend in the bathroom. In the morning you use the dipper to pour the water on yourself for a shower. The dipper is also used in place of toilet paper (this takes a certain amount of technique and placement to really feel clean, but it can be done). The dipper is also for washing hands, wetting the toothbrush, and cleaning a razor.

Finally, the kitchen. A Filipino kitchen can look suprisingly barren. Its usually a few cabinets, some counterspace, and a sink. The gas tank and burners may have a place in the house, but only in larger kitchens. Most famies have an outdoor kitchen, lovingly called the Dirty Kitchen. Its dirty because this is where you get the joy of cooking everything by fire and so everything is sooty. Cooking with charcoal is fun, but takes some practice. Their charcoal is made by processing some kind of wood in a little bamboo hut thing--i don't fully understand it yet. As such it doesn't last nearly as long as our charcoal brickettes. Some families will also have a gas operated burner, but since gas is expensive the fire way is preferred.

The other domestic duty to be covered is laundry. Again buckets are needed. I usually take 4 buckets to wash my clothes. First you fill a bucket with clean water and soap and rinse your light colors (i think ideally you soak them overnight to get them really white, but who has the time for that?). By hand you take little sections and rub them together to get them clean. This rubbing is done with a technique, that like the dipper, takes time and practice to get down. The first few times i did my own laundry i was laughed at, but i've got it down now. The most important areas to hit are the necks, pits, and crotches of your clothes. Its not surprising then that these are the first areas to start deteriorating and stretching. Then you have to rinse the clothes three times in clean water. On the third rinse the water shouldn't have soap in it any more. Then you wring out the clothes and line dry them. I'm getting faster and what used to take 2 hours now takes around 1.

Sorry I don't have pictures of the house. We'll be painting the walls next weekend so i'll try to get some shots then. Suggestions for the next topic are always welcome!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Family

**Disclaimer: All my following culture talks come directly from my own observations. What I see is totally subjective to me and shouldn't be considered at all representative to the whole of Filipino culture. I live in a city on a fairly small island so it can hardly be indicative of the culture as a whole.**

Probably the most important aspect to understanding the rest of Filipino culture is to be aware of the power of the family. In all things Filipino, family should come first. Tardiness is totally excused if caused by a family issue. Being a good son or daughter takes precedent over all other responsibilities. This doesn't just extent to a maternal and paternal bond, but a deep concern for even far flung relatives like second cousins.

Because of this, Filipinos want to live with their family for as long as possible. A typical household probably has three generations under one roof, and if the grandparents are dead then maybe some aunts or cousins live in the house. In my current house I live with a mother and father, their three grown sons, their wives, and two grandchildren--a third's on the way. The sons probably don't have plans to move to their own homes, and probably wouldn't want to anyways. Part of this relates back to the Filipino way of using everything to its optimal level. Even if a son moved out, another relative would move in because otherwise its a waste of space. In America we take our ability to all have our own space as a given; if you think about it, that's a pretty nice luxury.

To underscore the power of the family they've developed a much larger vocabulary for family members than we have in the states. In English we have words like Grandfather and grandmother or daughter-in-law and son-in-law. We take our immediate family words (mother, daughter) and attach something to make it a different relation (grand, in-law). In Hiligaynon all these people have a different single word.

To make matters even more complicated you add in the godparent relationship. By being a godparent to a child you are also adopted into the child's family. There's even a word for two people who are the godparents to the same child but come from different families. This system is used much like intermarriages amongst the royal families of Europe. At baptisms a favorite guest is the mayor, because then your child is linked to a person who wields local power.

During our New Years out in the province, Marlo and I were walking around his barangay. To me it seemed that every third person was in some way related to him, his godchild, or a godparent to him. I see the value in this. The large family network means you have more resources to draw upon and a supportive community at your disposal. It has taken time for me to adjust to this system and some times I still have questions about it.

Marlo, because he is the oldest son and his father is retired, has to be the breadwinner for his family. He works at a job that pays more money than teaching (what he'd rather do) because most of his paycheck goes to funding his two sisters as they finish college. In exchange his family treats him like a prince. In my American mind I admire him for being so supportive, but its hard not to percieve the sisters as leeches to his resources. Maybe its just my family, but I would have a hard time in giving up my dream to pay for Jared's tuition, when he's capable of working and going to school.

Filipinos think that all Americans are thrown out of their homes at 18 and forced out onto the hard streets to work for themselves. They call this being "liberated". Its hard to convince them otherwise, especially when I explain I left home at 18 to go to college and worked two jobs to make it through. I also like that they call our lifestyle "liberated". To me it shows an underlying unease with the status quo. When we discuss family differences I tell them I don't consider myself liberated from my family, but that I'm supposed to be as self-sufficient as possible so that my siblings can have more. They understand and respect that answer a lot.

I hope that serves as a good start to the culture of the Philippines. I'm working on a food post, but I need to take my camera out and get pictures of the food.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Years...New Spin

It is the end of Christmas break, and yes they still say Christmas Break here. Tomorrow I go back to work ready for a fun week of midterm exams. My students are great besides for the fact that they like to cheat. Filipino culture is built around cooperation and so for them it only seems natural to give the answer to their struggling classmates. This means that for the next week I either have to feign ignorance or be the cheating-Nazi with my students, goody!!

For New Years I went to Marlo's hometown of Ma-ao (pronounced Ma-OW). Its about 45 minutes away from the city and is pretty rural. The town used to have a big sugar mill, but it has closed down. It now stands as a looming monument of the "old days". The sugar is now trucked several kilometers away to be milled, mostly because there's not enough sugar made in Ma-ao to warrant its own mill. I spent the days meeting his friends and family and trying to explain why I'm in Philippines. I tried using my Hiligaynon as much as possible but, like my students and their English, quickly got frustrated.

New Years for Marlo's family is a very big holiday, even outranking Christmas. On New Years Eve they prepare a huge meal around 4 or 5 pm then nap. The nap is crucial because starting at 11:30 they don't plan to sleep until 4 or 5 am. At midnight everyone makes as much noise as possible to drive the evil spirits away. Fireworks, which are heard intermittently in the days prior to New Years, are lit at a furious pace to help with the exorcisms.

So for the next few posts I thought I'd detail some of the finer points of Filipino culture. I've gotten several emails from friends and family asking cultural questions and realize I haven't done a very good job at that with the blog.